Leading by Example: In Remembrance of Dave Rainer
Rainer was NC State's associate vice chancellor for Environmental Health and Public Safety and was responsible for promoting safety and reducing risk among the NC State community.
Dave Rainer, NC State’s associate vice chancellor for Environmental Health and Public Safety, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 30.
As the executive responsible for promoting safety and reducing risk among the NC State community and across the campus environment, Rainer led a division comprising nearly 200 full-time employees. The division’s six major functions cover the following areas:
- Environmental health and safety — occupational safety, biosafety and hazardous materials safety, including oversight of the use of radioactive material at the NC State Veterinary Hospital and in the PULSTAR nuclear reactor.
- Emergency preparedness and strategic initiatives — emergency management and mission continuity, the university fire marshal, emergency medical technicians and campus first responders.
- Risk assessment — violence prevention and threat management.
- Security applications and technology — building security, card-access systems and the Security Master Plan.
- Transportation — the Wolfline bus system and management of 20,000 parking spaces.
- University Police — a full-service, fully accredited police department with about 50 sworn officers, and a 911 emergency call center that’s available 24/7.
“Dave Rainer will be greatly missed,” says Charles Maimone, executive vice chancellor, Finance and Administration. “It was such a privilege to work with him. Dave knew firsthand every building, laboratory, classroom and outdoor space operated by NC State. More importantly, he knew many of the faculty and staff working on campus. No challenge was too big or problem too small for Dave to help find a solution.”
One of the greatest challenges Rainer and his division faced was the COVID-19 pandemic — especially as the pandemic abated and NC State’s leaders began grappling with how to return to normal operations. Environmental Health and Public Safety led NC State’s efforts to reopen campus by collaborating with units all across the university to establish policies, develop procedures and procure equipment that would allow students, faculty, staff and visitors to return to campus safely.
“Dave led by example,” says Mary Cole Pike, director of public relations with University Communications and Marketing. Pike collaborated extensively with Rainer during the pandemic and its aftermath, and she quickly grew to like and respect him, she says. “Dave showed up and ensured the work was done well,” she observes. “He put in the time to lead with his heart, getting to know people and caring for them in his own way.”
Rainer was also responsible for overseeing logistics for high-profile visits to campus, such as President Obama’s visit in 2014; coordinating large-scale, multiagency emergency planning with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and state and local agencies; and working with federal agencies focused on mitigating the risk of bioterrorism and similar threats. In 2007 Rainer testified to Congress on campus safety and federal programs designed to support emergency preparedness and response in higher education (Rainer’s remarks begin at 1:42 in the video linked above).
“Dave Rainer was always one of my favorite people at NC State,” says Shawn Troxler, NC State’s deputy general counsel. “I always appreciated and respected his candor and willingness to engage you directly on the issues. Regardless of whether you agreed with his opinion, you always respected it, because few people at the university have seen or experienced as much as Dave.”
During his time at NC State, Rainer spearheaded a variety of important innovations that made the university a safer, better place to work, study, visit and live. These include the launch of WolfAlert, the university’s emergency communication system; deployment of new technology to more effectively manage parking resources and improve customer service through an online parking permit portal and electronic license plate readers; and the development of the first Security Master Plan in the UNC System, which is now used as a model for other institutions and state agencies.
Dave Rainer was born in New York City and was always proud of his roots in the Bronx. He graduated from Quinnipiac College with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1977, followed two years later by an M.S. in environmental health from the University of Minnesota. His professional career began in 1979 with a job as an industrial hygienist at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In 1984, Rainer became director of environmental health and safety at Bellcore, a research and development company formed in the wake of AT&T’s court-ordered divestiture. He stayed there until 1992, when he came to NC State as director of environmental health and safety.
Rainer was an avid and accomplished skier who enjoyed taking annual ski trips out west with his family. He also enjoyed golfing and cycling, both for the sport and for the camaraderie.
“I always enjoyed Dave’s stories, especially as he regaled about his travel and skiing experiences,” says Troxler. “I was also extremely jealous of his timing. As some meetings wore on and on, it never failed that Dave’s phone would ring or vibrate at the perfect moment, and he would get up and leave the room to answer. I always remarked at the impeccable timing of such calls — so much so that I termed it the ‘Dave Rainer app’ and told him I wanted to get it for my phone. But that was Dave: always one step ahead of all of us. NC State has lost a great leader.”
Rainer is survived by his wife and two children.
“Dave worked tirelessly to help keep us safe, and he cared deeply about students, faculty and staff — the people who comprise our university community,” Maimone says. “Dave embodied the Think and Do spirit of NC State.”